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A new way to locate expertise online

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A new way to locate expertise online

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A major challenge facing companies wishing to become more collaborative is understanding how and where expertise sits within their organisation.  This is especially difficult when a lot of the knowledge we hold is not codified, and therefore remains difficult to both search for and identify.

A new study from Virginia Tech should go some way towards helping in this endeavour.  The paper targeted the notoriously difficult world of the online discussion forum, where expertise can often be very difficult to identify.

“Unlike experts in the real world whose expertise is certified by advanced degrees and/or authoritative titles, experts in the virtual world are difficult to identify,” says G. Alan Wang, an associate professor of business information technology in the Pamplin College of Business.

The application developed as part of the research would gauge an individuals expertise by both evaluating any explicit documentation they had authored and also exploring their social status within the community.

Expert finding has become increasingly important in large corporations, Wang says. “Companies such as GE, Dell, IBM, KPMG, Microsoft, and Google have amassed a huge volume of data—in addition to knowledge exchanges on internal discussion forums, employee emails and other internal communications, and Web-based customer service interactions.”

The application, known as ExpertRank (not to be confused with the old Teoma developed search algorithm), could easily be adapted for a corporate market to help companies build expert databases to help facilitate internal knowledge sharing.

Wang wanted to make sure that the source of expertise was spidered as well as the actual knowledge itself so that people could more easily locate either people that knew the answer, or could direct them to the right place.

“When a user has a problem and is looking for a solution, he or she may spend time browsing past relevant postings or wait for responses by initiating a new discussion,” Wang says. An expert-finding technique allows the user to choose to consult the expert members of the forum directly. “It is convenient and effective for both users who seek knowledge and those who are willing to share.”

Wang believes that ExpertRank fills a gap in the market for an expert finding system that takes into account of both the content produced by an individual and their social status in the community.

Testing their computer algorithm in Microsoft Office Discussion groups, the researchers found that it “significantly” outperformed commonly used document-based expert finding techniques.

Such a system could be especially useful for open innovation style communities where the traditional organisational hierarchy is missing, and therefore the social status that can be inferred from that.  It’s not clear as yet however when, or indeed if, the application will be released to the public.

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